Molly Criner Compares Her Fight Against Same-Sex Marriage to Standing Up to Nazi Germany. 'I Just Have to Look at What God Said.'
Back in July, Irion County, Texas Clerk Molly Criner publicly declared that her office wouldn't issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.
In an interview with The Christian Reporter News, Criner compared her plight to clerks in Nazi Germany who were asked to collect information about Jews but refused to do so.
Citing her belief that children are better off with a mother and father, Criner said she prayed about the issue extensively, becoming physically ill and not sleeping for four days. She considered resigning, but after reading the majority and dissenting opinions in Obergefell, she concluded that the court had overstepped its bounds — even though she acknowledged she's not a constitutional scholar.
"One of the first things said was that I don’t have to do it, but my deputies can, and I can fulfill my Christian conscience that way, but for me that wasn’t an option when I prayed about it,” Criner said. “I would be delegating my authority — that’s just like me doing it.”
On Wednesday, more than seven months later, at a Texas legislative hearing on the need to protect so-called "religious freedom," Criner told state senators that no same-sex couple has requested a marriage license in tiny Irion County, which has a population of just 1,500. According to census data from UCLA's Williams Institute, there were no same-sex couples living in Irion County in 2010.
Criner said two news reporters posed as a same-sex couple and requested a license in the wake of Obergefell, but she turned them away. She added that she's torn between state statutes and the Texas Constitution, which contain prohibitions on same-sex marriage, and the high court’s decision declaring those laws unconstitutional.
“Am I obligated by law to issue a marriage license? I am. But I’m also obligated by law to issue a marriage license only between a man and a woman," Criner said. "This is going to be something that violates my oath."
Pressed by one senator about what she'll do if a same-sex couple requests a marriage license from her office, Criner said, “I’ll have to evaluate that the day it happens."
Republican Sen. Bob Estes responded by referencing the Constitution's supremacy clause, which establishes that federal law takes precedence over state law.
GOP Sen. Brian Birdwell pointed to a case in his district, where a same-sex couple sued Hood County after Clerk Katie Lang turned them away. A federal judge ordered Lang’s office to issue the license, and granted the couple a $44,000 settlement.
"Your testimony, Ms. Criner, is telling of the circumstances we face today," Birdwell said. "Is 'supreme' — in this case talking about the Supreme Court — is 'supreme' the adjective of court or is 'supreme' the noun? Is the Supreme Court the supreme branch of government and is it functioning within its role and its duties? I’m of the mind that it isn’t, because it’s legislating from the bench."
But Birdwell then concurred with Estes, saying the supremacy clause means it's up to federal officials "to check this the way we're desiring them to check it."
"I don’t have a solution directly to what we share as a concern, Madame Clerk," Birdwell told Criner. "I do know that right now, based upon your testimony and my experience in Hood County, that those that want a license to be married can obtain it, even if the elected officeholder doesn’t wish to sign it and validate it as a person, that the office can validate it."
In July, Criner said her deputy clerks don't want to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even if she delegates the authority to them. She added that because anyone "with 10 bucks and an Internet connection" can become a licensed minister and perform same-sex marriages, clerks are "the last gatekeeper."
Criner also made it clear that she's willing to be a martyr. She said she had considered the potential consequences of her decision, but ultimately they didn't matter.
"I mean no disrespect to the same-sex couples who wish the benefits of marriage for their relations — no animosity toward them. I just have to look at what God said, and I have to look at the way our Constitution was based on what God said," Criner told The Christian Reporter News. “I hope everybody really likes me when it’s over, and I hope I still have a home, and I hope I'm not in jail, but I really can’t think about any of that. I just leave it in the hands of God."
Watch Criner's testimony during Wednesday's hearing by going here, then advancing to the 2:04:00 mark.